Ticket to Ride

It's good news for bad people as low morale saps Dallas cops' will to work

In August, Sergeant Raul Rios called it quits. He couldn't stand working in the Dallas Police Department anymore.

The 21-year department veteran says the immediate cause of his leaving was his surprise transfer from supervising a dozen patrol officers on the streets of Northwest Dallas to a graveyard shift in communications. He had spoken up for three officers whom police Chief Terrell Bolton had fired for scuffling with a fleeing felon at the end of a car chase last May. "If you disagree with the chain of command, they'll bury you," he says.

Rios, whose views about the fired cops were vindicated last week when Bolton's bosses in the city manager's office reinstated them with lesser punishments, says he loved the department. "I always respected the rank. I believe in that," says Rios, a seventh-grade dropout who went to Vietnam, to remedial classes and the University of Texas, then to the DPD.

Former Dallas police Sergeant Raul Rios quit the department and went into the restaurant business last year. He says leadership and morale at the department have tanked.
Mark Graham
Former Dallas police Sergeant Raul Rios quit the department and went into the restaurant business last year. He says leadership and morale at the department have tanked.
Productivity has plunged, but top assistants to police Chief Terrell Bolton say there's no problem. Rank-and-file officers disagree.
Peter Calvin
Productivity has plunged, but top assistants to police Chief Terrell Bolton say there's no problem. Rank-and-file officers disagree.

But there is no way he could respect the over-promoted people Bolton began installing three years ago, he says. "In my chain of command, they didn't have the experience or intelligence to do the job. The rank and file see it, but there's nothing you can do about it.

"So you smile and go on, but, you know, there's a lot of expressions out there of 'I'm not gonna do this. I'm not gonna do that. I'm not gonna do shit.' You're going to do your job. Answer calls. Get there as fast as you can. But the general feeling among the officers I know is, 'I'm mad. I'm not writing tickets. I'm not gonna go the extra mile.'"

In police work, the extra mile translates into productivity and numbers: arrests big and small, cleared cases, traffic stops and tickets.

Over the past three years, in a period coinciding with Bolton's arrival in the top job and the rejection in 2001 by Dallas voters of a police pay-raise referendum, law enforcement productivity in Dallas has fallen off a cliff, according to police and court records provided to the Dallas Observer under Texas' open records law.

The documents show:

Arrests dropped 11 percent a year in 2001 and 2002 after falling only slightly in the previous three years. Total arrests for all offenses went from 79,752 in 2000 to 62,624 in 2002. The drop came in a period in which crime in Dallas--measured by an index set by federal standards--increased 6 percent.

··· Drug arrests last year fell 30 percent, from 3,005 to 2,106.

··· Traffic citations, which had been going up every year in the 1990s, began to level in 2000 and plunged in 2001 and 2002. In 2002, DPD wrote 20 percent fewer traffic tickets than just two years earlier. That's 76,000 fewer tickets.

··· City budget officials say they expect to collect $5 million less in ticket revenue from the municipal courts this year than they did two years ago, and they continue to revise their projections downward. Dallas drivers probably don't need statistics to tell them the streets and highways are dicier today than ever, but here's one, anyway: Traffic fatalities went up 13 percent in the two years the ticket writing went down.

··· DPD, which in the late 1990s was on par with other large cities in solving violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, has fallen well below them in the past several years. When a suspect in a crime is identified and taken into custody, an offense is considered cleared. Dallas' clearance rates for violent crimes fell from 44 percent in 1998 to 28 percent in 2001. National statistics gathered by the FBI show departments in other large cities, those with more than a million residents, cleared 47 percent of violent crimes in 1998 and 39 percent in 2001, the most recent year for which national statistics are available. Their arrest rates fell. Dallas' fell a lot more.

If you think the numbers sound scary, wait till you hear what the street-level cops have to say.


The Observer met with three veteran officers--one white, one Hispanic, one African-American--at an Uptown steak house recently to talk about life in DPD patrol and their attitudes about their jobs. They all declined to speak on the record for fear of reprisal, so we agreed to assign them pseudonyms.

Lou, who is black, has been with the department 21 years. He works alone, on patrol, in a squad car in a predominantly Hispanic section of the city. He spends most of his time answering calls for service. "If I get a call for a sexual assault, or a robbery in progress, I'm still running balls to the wall," he says. "I have a bad attitude, but I'm still gonna take care of business."

The difference in his thoughts today, as opposed to a few years ago, he says, is that he usually opts to do less. He takes more sick days and has far less enthusiasm about making routine traffic stops, he says. From the stops flow tickets and sometimes more: arrests for drugs or guns or outstanding warrants. "You can hit the jackpot and have a wanted felon in the back seat," he says.

"In my best months I used to write maybe 150 tickets. You can write four, five a day no sweat," Lou says. "Last month I think I wrote six...I've been getting off work on time."

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